A little over six years ago, the up till then completely unknown Swedish group ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest with the song ‘Waterloo’. And a couple of weeks later, that song was at the top of all European charts. By 1978, ABBA had already sold fifty million records, whereby the Beatles were defeated. By now, more than hundred million records have been sold, which makes ABBA the wealthiest pop group in the world.
ABBA is also Sweden’s most important export article and the ABBA enterprises are the richest of the country. Under the inspiring leadership of manager Stig Anderson, ABBA has founded, or even taken over, a couple of companies. That’s how Polar Music is taking care of the group’s recording and publishing rights. In the meantime, Polar has become Sweden’s biggest record company. Pol Oil has been founded for the investments in oil. Invest-Finans is an ABBA company that’s manufacturing big agricultural machines.
Furthermore, the group owns the biggest art gallery in Europe and a big bicycle factory. In London, New York and Los Angeles, ABBA has set up record producing units. For an outsider, it’s hard to grasp ABBA’s turnover.
Obviously the pressure is on for Benny and Björn, who have to produce new songs. But Agnetha and Anni-Frid are under high pressure as well, always having to succeed. In Stockholm, the singers are talking openly about the tensions, the successes and the future of ABBA.
Just like you would expect from the Scandinavian countries, Stockholm is indeed covered by a heavy snowfall. The traffic is sluggishly finding its way, but everything is fine in the ultra modern interior of the Polar Music office. About 30 people are working in this building. The walls are covered with gold and platinum records. At 60, I give up counting.
Agnetha and Anni-Frid are in a great mood, perhaps thanks to the conversation with Stig Anderson that preceded our conversation. Because the ABBA-singers are keeping a close watch on the proceedings. “Even before ABBA became really big, we already had plans to do something useful with the money,” Stig explains, who sticks around for a while. “The plan was very simple: for the first time in the history of pop music, we wanted to get all activities under one umbrella. We are writing our own songs, we publish them ourselves, we press them ourselves, we do our own promotion, we have our own record company and we are the artists. For the first time, we have one hundred percent of what we can get!” The entire record industry is being controlled from Stockholm.
“At an early stage, we have decided to stay in Sweden,” Anni-Frid says. “As soon as we had made that decision, we had to make a plan to keep as much money as possible. If we take money from ABBA ourselves, we pay 85 percent taxes. That’s why all the money is invested and we just get a salary. Now we are the biggest company in Sweden, and that’s a nice result as well.”
But that big business is not plain sailing all the time. ABBA has also encountered a lot of problems; becoming a supergroup is hard, but remaining one is practically impossible! “The tensions are often very high,” Agnetha says, who saw her marriage to Björn come to an end two years ago. “There had already been huge difficulties between us for some time,” the blonde singer continues. “In the end, the children started to suffer from it and the group as well. We even went to a psychiatrist to talk about our problems. Eventually, we thought it was best to go our separate ways.”
“Of course, this caused huge problems, because Björn had to keep on writing hits and we had to keep working together. I can say now that I’ve had a deep crisis. I didn’t see any future for the group and would liked to have quit. Now, I’m very motivated because working actually helps me overcome my problems.”
Indeed, it’s clear that Agnetha is having big plans, because in the meantime she has recorded a Swedish solo album. Also, she has been asked to compose Sweden’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest. Will she start a solo career after all? Agnetha, smiling: “Not at all, but I’ve recorded a Christmas album with my daughter Linda. Due to a mistake, the record couldn’t be in the shops in time. That’s why the whole project has been postponed to this year.”
Something that annoys both singers a great deal are the persistent stories, claiming that they don’t get along. Frida says, while slightly raising her voice: “People just don’t want to believe that Anna and I are really good friends. I have tried to help her as much as possible during the past years.”
“Anna was there for me as well four years ago. I was suffering from a depression. I was tired all the time and had a bad temper. I had just turned thirty, had problems with the children and couldn’t cope with the ABBA-activities. Things like that happen. It’s clear that all four of us are very good friends, since we are still together.”
The ladies do admit that the tours are getting a bit too much for them. After all, they both have their families. “It’s getting ever more difficult to go on long tours,” Anna says. “The boys don’t think it’s that bad, because they love to perform. It gives them new inspiration. But as far as we are concerned, we’ve had our fun. After all, it’s not a piece of cake to jump around on stage when you are having your period.”
Agnetha Fältskog, as she is now called again, does admit that her life isn’t very easy at the moment. The threat that her children would be kidnapped, has added to the tensions considerably. “At the moment, there is no other man in my life,” Anna says, “but I only have to go out to dinner with someone and the entire world media are on top of it! This doesn’t make things very easy for me at the moment. My whole life has changed completely now that I’m on my own. I’ve had to deal with that shock before I could continue with new fervour.”
There seems to be no doubt about the fact that ABBA is thinking things over. The company is the most successful in pop history. But a new tour seems to be out of the question and the ladies would like to take things easier. And for the rest, everything depends on Björn and Benny, because they have to come up with a new ABBA album.
“The boys don’t have time for anything, this caused a lot of problems at home as well,” Frida says while we are almost back in the snow. That’s why the two BB’s leave the talking to the two AA’s. After all, you cannot say A without saying B.